TORONTO -- Toronto FC versus Philadelphia Union games have followed the same path this season.
Toronto scored first, had a player sent off and then gave up a stoppage-time goal to Jack McInerny -- both off a long Sheanon Williams throw -- as the two earlier meetings ended in 1-1 ties.
"They stole four points off us with the long throw in the dying minutes," said Toronto manager Ryan Nelsen. "That has kind of faded away from our game hasn't it? ... Those stoppage-time goals they fade away."
The numbers seem to back Nelsen up. Once a generous provider of goals in the final 15 minutes, Toronto has given up four goals less in that period at 14 than the Los Angeles Galaxy this season. FC Dallas (15), the Montreal Impact (15) and Chivas USA (23) have also yielded more late scores in 2013.
Tied for 14th with the New York Red Bulls in that category is hardly cause to celebrate but it is a step up for a team that has a history of giving late goals away.
The good news for Nelsen this week is that Toronto (5-15-11) is coming off a rare win and has healthy personnel options. Forward Robert Earnshaw has recovered from a hamstring problem, leaving only striker Danny Koevermans (calf) and midfielder Matias Laba (toe) on the sidelines.
The manager believes Toronto can do some damage as the season winds down.
"Philadelphia, they have all the pressure on them," said Nelsen. "Their home fans will expect an easy win. They'll expect to come and do a number on us.
"All I can say is our guys are really motivated. We want to ruin a few guys' seasons, to tell you the truth. We've got three games to ruin some seasons and we want to win games. It's as simple as that."
Toronto finishes its schedule against three teams in the playoff hunt, with games in Philadelphia, in Chicago and at home to the Montreal Impact.
With Toronto out of the playoff picture once again, Nelsen's players are working to retain their jobs ahead of another off-season overhaul.
For some, the die has already been cast. Fullback Richard Eckersley, whose US$400,000-plus contract has been deemed too large, is expected to sit once again in favour of Mark Bloom for a fourth straight game.
"He's been fantastic. He wants the ball. He looks like a guy who's been in the league for a long time," Nelsen said of Bloom.
"He's playing a position where we should be worried because of his inexperience but we're not," he added. "That shows you how well he's done."
Nelsen acknowledges that Eckersley has committed no crime, other than wield a contract that is too big for the team's salary cap to handle.
"He's a fantastic fullback, he's a great fullback. In MLS, there's not one club that would not want Richard Eckersley," said Nelsen.
But the manager is not about to shed any tears for the English fullback.
"He's on guaranteed money and he still gets paid. There's guys out here on semi-guaranteed contracts on minimum (MLS) wage."
Defender Steven Caldwell and midfielder Jonathan Osorio both return from suspension Saturday. Darel Russell will likely get another start in centre midfield.
"Darel Russell has arguably been our best player in the last two games," said Nelsen. "You've got to reward his application in the games."
Philadelphia (11-10-9) has four games remaining with coach John Hackworth estimating it will make the playoffs with two wins and a draw.
"This is a game where we really need to maximize the points," he is quoted on the team's official website.
The Union are coming off a 1-0 win in Kansas City, with Conor Casey's goal ending a 346-minute scoreless streak dating back to Aug. 25 The shutout was the 11th of the season for Zac MacMath, tying him with Portland's Donovan Ricketts for most in the league.
NOTES -- Toronto will wear white for the second week in a row, a consequence of the league's breast cancer awareness campaign. Toronto goalie Joe Bendik wore all pink last week at home, prompting the referee to tell Toronto's outfield players to switch to white because their red was too close in colour to Bendik's gear. With the Philadelphia goalie wearing pink this time, Toronto will stick to white. The game will also feature balls with pink trim ... A Philadelphia win would be a season-best 12th for the franchise.